Marcus Kelly and I were standing in a lean to waiting for the duty bus. The little thatched roof was the military’s wave to comfort for those of us GIs who used the sparse transportation to get around. We used the busses to get from place to place at the airport, the downtown administration buildings and office, and if they happened to go past or close to a favorite watering hole, we could ride there too. Different busses ran on different schedules. The airport busses were run the most often, doing their route around Tan Son Nhut every half hour from 6am to 6pm. The MACV in town shuttles ran from 8am to 6pm every 45 minutes and the downtown shuttles ran every hour from 8am to 10pm. This last was the most useful because you could take the bus out to you choice of bars and take the last one back to base in time for 11 o’clock curfew. The busses didn’t run on the weekends, which simplified deciding which one to catch. Of course, it didn’t make sense to remember any of the bus schedules since we only happened to be in town to scarf up some aerial delivery supplies from rigger headquarters. Normally we were out in the field at any number of bases, transients going to where this or that unit needed fast supply from the sky. Rather than a bus, our transportation ran the gamut of DHC-4 Caribou, HC-130 Hercules, C-123 Provider and even the old C-41. We also dropped from CH-47 Chinook twin rotor helicopters.
Kelly was huge. He stood 6 foot six of barrel-chested bulk and tipped the scales at almost 300 lbs and not a bit of it fat. On patrol he was a pack animal, carrying an M-60 machine gun with enough ammo to entertain a two-week firefight. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but the guy really packed the ammo cans. He was from Boston and had the accent to prove it. No, not nor’easter, Irish. We riggers were of a single company, the Aerial Pack and Maintenance Company, but were spread out all over because there was no way to base out of a single place. We were in Saigon, Bien Hoa, Nha Trang and a smattering of lesser known bases. The lower you were on the totem pole, the the more time you spent in the lesser known bases. Kelly and I were on reprieve (as we called it) getting some soft duty doing magical requisitions of much needed equipment. It was called magical requisitions because no paperwork ever accompanied the goods we piled on to unscheduled flights we bummed from pilots who couldn’t care less what got tossed in their cargo hold so long as it was supplying our side of the war.
Kelly was great when it came to lining up flights. He would tower over some second lieutenant traffic officer wanting to know which of the planes on the ramp was his. All the while he would chew a cigar stub and growl about shoving someone’s tongue down their throat and pulling it out their butt. The flustered flight officer, unable to find any such orders, would decide it was better just to tap an aircraft for the mission than to risk the ire of the monster snorting and pawing his hooves on the other side of the counter.
It depended on how much we had to carry that determined the way we’d scarf a ride for our goods, which often arrived in a 3/4 truck tearing out to the flight line and offloading as quickly as possible, all the while encouraging the flight crew to go ahead and fire up the motors. Sweating and wild eyed, we’d jump into the aircraft and close the cargo doors while yelling “Go! Go! Go!”
“What about your truck? You gonna just leave it on the ramp?”
“The owner is on their way right now to get it. Please take off. Now.” Only once did the aircraft get a call from the tower asking them to return. The pilot and copilot found this hysterically funny and totally ignored the call. We slipped the captain a fifth of Seagram’s and told him he was our kind of people.
We’d spent the day scoping out the items we needed for retrieval the next day and were now at the bus stop waiting to go downtown to a bar and relax before heading over to NCO transient billeting. A few other people had wandered out of the sun to wait on the bus and soon there were about ten or so of us there waiting. Kelly elbowed me and nodded his head toward a Vietnamese guy. It wasn’t unusual to see a Vietnamese guy in Vietnam and I looked at Kelly and shrugged a ‘so?’ Then I saw what Marcus saw. The guy was carrying a cloth wrapped parcel. It didn’t look like something from a store or something someone would wrap to give to another.
Kelly moved behind the man who was now looking furtive, his eyes on the swivel. Marcus grabbed the guy and hefted him into the air and literally threw the into the rock and scrub of the vacant lot the bus stop was in front of. I yelled DOWN!” and threw myself at a couple of the people in the group. There was a loud WOOSH noise and the Vietnamese guy Kelly threw started screaming in pain. He was carrying a satchel charge alright, but it failed to explode. Instead, the chemicals and gunpowder flash burnt while the would be bomber lain across it. The air grew thick with the smell of charred chemistry and cooked meat lacing the thick gray smoke that spread out from the burn zone.
The bus pulled up followed by a pair of MP jeeps. Kelly and I quietly stepped onto the bus and took seats midway back. The people crowded up to the MPs with a lot of arm waving and yelling. The people appeared to be looking to point us out as the bus pulled away from the stop. We didn’t want any part of what was to come if the MPs got hold of us. We’d be hours giving statements and filling out forms and there was no way we’d get our drinks. It could even compromise our clandestine mission of a little inter-company adjusting of equipment possession. We got off a couple stops down in case the MPs took it on themselves to head off the bus. Ten minutes later we were squeezed into an overheated press of bodies yelling out our drink order.
“You know,” said Marcus. “It would have really sucked if I tossed that little guy like that and a loaf of bread fell out.”
“No one would have carried food in that tumble of filthy cloth.” I said.
We drank our drinks and thought about it.